Srinivas Venkataraghavan, who made batsmen play to his tune, turns 75

Venkat began as a player and added new roles as his career evolved – captain, selector, administrator, manager, referee, umpire, writer and TV expert.

Srinivas Venkataraghavan was a star of cricket, from his debut at the age of 19 in 1965 to his farewell Test as umpire in 2004.

Srinivas Venkataraghavan was a star of cricket, from his debut at the age of 19 in 1965 to his farewell Test as umpire in 2004.   -  The Hindu Archives

It was well established and accepted that Srinivas Venkataraghavan could make the batsman play to his tune. It was tough to beat the trap that Venkat set with his off-spin. He was unerringly accurate in his line and length and extremely parsimonious in conceding runs. He was a star of the game, from his debut at the age of 19 in 1965 to his farewell Test as umpire in 2004 - a career that saw him don various hats, a feat unmatched.

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Venkat began as a player and added new roles as his career evolved – captain, selector, administrator, manager, ICC referee, ICC international umpire, sports writer and TV expert. He conducted quiz shows and had short stints as coach whenever he travelled as manager of the team or a youngster approached him. 73 Tests and 52 ODI matches adorned his umpiring career. He was one of the highly respected umpires who were appointed for high profile contests.

That he played cricket in an era which saw some of the greatest cricketers take the pitch speaks for his potential. “I am a traditionalist,” he says in a firm tone and you respect him for his ability to command a place in the team amid a galaxy of stars. Part of the famous spin quartet that included Bishan Singh Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar and EAS Prasanna, he stood out for his versatility.
 

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Umpires Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Brent 'Billy' Bowden (R) inspect a large puddle as rain washed out play on the fourth day of the first Test match between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Park on March 14, 2000.   -  AFP

 

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He started his career by bowling in the company of Bapu Nadkarni, Chandu Borde and Salim Durani and signed off by sharing the attack with Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri and L. Sivaramakrishnan. He has his parameter to judge a good spinner. “Can you bowl a maiden over to Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters?” These were batsmen who would get 120 runs in a session when batting together.

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When bowlers sought Venkataraghavan's advice, it was, “Don’t give width. Aim at good length and if you still get hit, smile and give credit to the batsman."   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Venkat’s advice to batsman always was, “Play the ball, not the bowler.” When bowlers sought his advice, it was, “Don’t give width. Aim at good length and if you still get hit, smile and give credit to the batsman. You have to have discipline in your batting or bowling to be able to play good cricket. It is sacrilege if a bowler gets the fielder from deep square leg inside the circle and bowls on the leg to concede a boundary.”

On the subject of all-rounders, Venkat expresses his admiration for Kapil Dev and Ian Botham but is shocked at Jacques Kallis not getting the recognition he deserved. “When they ask me about all-rounders, I tell them there is a department called fielding too. Kapil, Botham and Kallis have been brilliant with the bat and ball and exceptionally good as fielders too.”

Venkat, who dismisses T20 as “rubbish” where bowlers are smacked for huge sixes, would have been a much-sought cricketer in this brand of cricket. He could make the batsman play the ball where he wanted him to. Often batsmen would lose their wicket when they tried to take Venkat on. He loved it. This battle of wits. Setting the batsman up.

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S. Venkataraghavan, captain of TNCA XI, receiving the winner's trophy from Mr. C. Ramaswamy, veteran cricketer, at the presentation ceremony of the Buchi Babu cricket tournament at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Madras (now Chennai) on September 04, 1980.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

He led India at the 1975 and 1979 World Cup tournaments apart from captaining in Tests. With a tally of 1390 first-class wickets, 530 in Ranji Trophy, from 83548 balls, Venkataraghavan, who played for Tamil Nadu and Derbyshire, remains one of the most iconic figures of Indian cricket. He could have qualified as an all-rounder as he could bat, bowl and was a brilliant close-in fielder.

Known for his no-nonsense attitude, the much loved and feared cricketer turns 75 today.

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